The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

81° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Hundreds gather to commemorate ‘King of Pop’

    People dance in Club Congress during the Optimist Clubs midnight tribute to Michael Jackson on June 25, 2009.
    People dance in Club Congress during the Optimist Club’s midnight tribute to Michael Jackson on June 25, 2009.

    For all appearances, June 25 looked like any other Thursday summer night in Tucson. Joggers and dog walkers followed the bike path while couples strolled behind them with their napping babies. Men and women fixed their hair and changed into tight-fitting clothes, ready to dance until the next morning.

    However, at Reid Park’s Rose Garden, and later at Club Congress, Tucsonans gathered to pay tribute to Michael Jackson following the news of his death earlier that afternoon.

    Close to 500 people met at the rose garden for a candlelight vigil organized by staff from radio stations KRQ 93.7 FM, Hot 98.3 FM, and Cool 1450 AM.

    The overall mood was somber yet celebratory. Two benches under the ramada served as an impromptu shrine to the late pop singer. People lighted candles and left homemade signs and notes on the benches with simple messages such as, “”We <3 you MJ”” and “”You’ll be missed.””

    Organizers used the ramada as a public space in which Tucsonans could share their personal memories of Jackson and his music. Those in attendance were also given the opportunity to request their favorite song or to perform a song or dance in his honor.

    For Lisa Odom, a biology and physiology senior, the event at Reid Park gave her a chance to reflect on Jackson’s influence in her life and in her father’s.

    “”He took it pretty rough since (Jackson’s music) was something him and I both shared, Odom said. “”My dad and Michael Jackson were born on the same day. He grew up with Michael his whole life.””

    Odom’s father is 55.

    She first listened to Jackson’s music at what some might consider an early age.

    “”I would say when I was in the womb, because I was at a concert in 1988 when I was in my mom – the ‘Bad’ concert,”” Odom said. “”So, technically, I started then.””

    A few feet away from Odom, the summer night’s warm breeze kept snuffing out the candles held in the hands of a father and his family. He relit them and showed his two elementary-aged sons how to cup their hands in order to protect the flames.

    Jessica Marie Garcia, 21, attended the vigil with her husband Matthew Locke and their son Nathaniel. The Pima Community College freshman said, “”He was a great artist. Nobody will ever forget the moves and how he did it. Nobody will come close to that.””

    Looking at her 18-month-old son, Garcia added, “”This is his first introduction to Michael Jackson and it won’t be his last.””

    Even though Jackson never visited Tucson for a concert, there was one direct connection to the singer in the form of Laurie Yazzie, who was among the crowd at the vigil. The karaoke jockey and DJ works under the name of Laurie Rox and is credited on the Dangerous album and on The Simpsons’ “”Do the Bartman”” song.

    Jackson, a fan of “”The Simpsons,”” actually worked on the song with producer Bryan Loren, but was uncredited due to legal concerns with his record label at the time.

    Yazzie recalled the recording sessions for the song in which she encountered a gentler side of Jackson.

    “”When it was myself and two guys I work with, we were doing the backup shout for ‘Do the Bartman’ and they didn’t do a very good job,”” she said. “”I told them they needed to really get into it, you know? And Michael Jackson came into the room and said to me, ‘What did you just say?’

    “”And I just clammed up, of course, because I mean, what do you do? Oh God, I said something wrong,”” Yazzie continued. “”He said, ‘No, no, what did you say?’ I said I told them they need to ‘Do the Bartman!’ They got to get excited about it because they were like ‘do the Bartman’ kind of thing.

    “”And he said, ‘Yeah, yeah, let’s do that!’ And he stood right back behind me. And he’s way bigger than I would ever be, right? But just to have that moment of having him stand behind you!”” Yazzie laughed and then was silent for a moment.

    She said while Jackson may not have considered her a personal friend, he was a big part of her life and helped open doors for her career.

    Later that night, Club Congress held its weekly Optimist Club dance night. But Dan Hernandez, the club’s booking manager, contacted the other DJs scheduled to perform.

    “”As the news broke that he passed away, I called up all the DJs. I’m like, ‘Guys, our regular night set is going to be co-opted. It’s going to be a Michael Jackson tribute. Whatever you guys want to do, it’s all going to be Michael Jackson-centric,'”” Hernandez said.

    As he spoke, Hernandez looked distracted and restless, perhaps remembering the YouTube video of “”Billie Jean”” he had watched over and over again earlier that day. He recalled his first encounter with Jackson’s music.

    At age 5, Hernandez had three prized possessions: “”a swap meet vinyl plastic zipper shirt,”” a 7-inch “”Johnny Be Good”” single, and the “”Thriller vinyl album.””

    He had talked with a friend who went to Reid Park and wanted to bring that celebratory feel to the club that night.

    Hernandez was more concerned about Jackson’s legacy as an artist rather than his portrayal in the media.

    “”People have their opinions about Michael Jackson and whether or not his actions later in life define him as an artist. It’s a serious discussion but, at the same time, I think ultimately you would separate the art from the artist and you celebrate his art. Michael Jackson’s art has touched everybody across the world and it’s enough to celebrate within itself,”” he said.

    Out on the dance floor, the DJs mainly played house and techno songs leading up to the midnight tribute to the man known as the “”King of Pop.””

    But when a Jackson song was introduced into the set, people danced more fervently. Dozens would storm the stage, shimmying and gyrating wherever and on whatever was there: on top of monitors, next to laptops and mixing boards, in front of the DJ, behind the DJ.

    J. R. Harrison, a.k.a. Sid the Kid, took a break in the tribute set to talk about his reaction to the news of Jackson’s death.

    “”I really didn’t believe it was true. I still don’t! I don’t think it’s sunk into society yet,”” he said. Harrison looked at the crowd. “”I don’t think everyone notices what’s going on: the most popular entertainer of all time is dead.””

    Wearing a cowboy hat, a necklace made of thick golden cords and a T-shirt with a silhouette of Michael Jackson in mid-moonwalk, Harrison doesn’t quite match what one would expect of a Jackson fan. Then again, the turnout that night was also surprising.

    “”I didn’t know there were this many Michael Jackson fans. If we had a Michael Jackson night, I don’t think this many people would’ve shown up,”” Harrison said. The club filled to its 800-person capacity during the tribute. “”They’re paying their respects and that’s what matters to me.””

    More to Discover
    Activate Search